You’ve heard of S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals, right? They are

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound (if that’s even a word), Evaluate-able (definitely not a word) & Relevant.

For years, I heard people talking about the importance and the benefit of setting S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals. On one level it seems logical and makes sense.

However, a few years ago I set out on a mission to work with and study people who take on, and achieve, massive challenges… daunting challenges. They do the things that most of us consider “impossible”. I wanted to know how they did it. I also wanted to know how I could learn from them and, more importantly, how to adopt their thinking to help us take on our own challenges.

One of the first things I noticed was that taking on an ‘impossible’ challenge is not “realistic”. Those who take on the ‘impossible’ often don’t have a fixed time-frame to work in. In many cases they’re taking on challenges that no-one has ever done before. They often have no idea when they’ll be successful or how long it might take. In some cases, they’re not even sure if it is “attainable”, but they’re going to give it a shot anyway.

Whilst listening to them, it struck me that they don’t start out by setting S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals at all. In fact, I suspect that they probably set D.U.M.B.E.R. goals;

Daft, Unrealistic, Mental, Bonkers, Exciting, Ridiculous.

I suspect that some of the greatest achievements in history were the result of D.U.M.B.E.R. Goals.

I wonder if Walt Disney followed S.M.A.R.T.E.R. principles when he conceived of the idea to build the Disney World theme park. He decided to take a swamp, several miles outside of Orlando, and invested millions of dollars building a giant fairy-tale princess castle on it. Imagine the conversations that he must have had when he positioned the idea with his bank manager. Apparently, he was rejected 302 times when he attempted to secure a loan for Disney World. Does his idea appear S.M.A.R.T.? How many people would have described it as ‘attainable’, ‘realistic’ or even ‘relevant’?

The same could be asked about President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon, or Martin Luther- King’s goal of equality for black Americans. But the mind-set doesn’t just apply to globally historic events. Which of our genuinely life-changing goals are S.M.A.R.T. and which are a little D.U.M.B.?

Just for interest, which one sounds more engaging to you? Which one is more likely to ignite your passion?

In writing “Could I Do That?”, I have also reflected on my own thought process whilst taking on a significant challenge. Interestingly, I found a pattern when I attempted a challenge that seemed ‘mammoth’ and ‘daunting’. Ironically it struck me that I was actually engaged in a form of ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goal setting. I was breaking down my challenge into ‘specific’, ‘measurable’, ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic’ chunks. Maybe I had been too hasty in judging those S.M.A.R.T. goals after all. Perhaps there is a place for both the D.U.M.B.E.R. and the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. processes.

Is it possible for S.M.A.R.T.E.R. and D.U.M.B.E.R. goal setting to live happily together? Can we have ‘daft’. ‘bonkers’ and ‘unrealistic’ goals as well as ‘specific’, ‘measurable’ and ‘achievable’?

What if our ‘why’ was based on D.U.M.B.E.R. goals? What if we allowed our imagination to run wild, in the way that Walt Disney’s mind did when he conceived the idea for his fairy-tale princess castle in the middle of a swamp? If we let our mind run free, without the need for sensible, S.M.A.R.T. thinking, what would we dream up? How exciting would that be? Once we have our D.U.M.B.E.R. goals, we need to find a way to help us get there. Maybe this is where those S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals could come in handy. Maybe they help us with the ‘how’.

Perhaps S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals can help us to understand how achieve our dreams…


D.U.M.B.E.R. goals ensure we have dreams worth achieving.